A Brief History of E-learning and Distance Education

E-learning is a very broad term. It is used to describe any type of learning environment that is computer enhanced. There are multiple technologies that can be employed in E-learning. It has become one of those types of words that are so general as to have lost some of its meaning. Distance learning is something that has evolved from Elearning. It is used to describe a learning environment that takes place away from the actual traditional classroom and campus.

E-learning began at just about the same time that a computer was developed that was practical for personal use. In fact, the concept and practice of distance learning predates the computer area by almost 100 years. In England, in 1840, shorthand classes were being offered by correspondence courses through the mail. The improvements to the postal service made this method of distance learning popular in the early part of the last century. This led to a large number of “through the mail” type of educational programs. The computer only made distance learning easy and better. Television, video recorders, and even radio have all made a contribution to distance learning.

E-learning and distance learning are not quite the same thing. The basic thing that distinguishes distance education is the physical separation of the student from the instructor and the class room. E-learning, however, became part of the classroom environment from the beginning. The early use of computers was geared to help the classroom instructor. Gradually, as more and more personal computers became available, the idea of online classes was explored by some pioneering Colleges and Universities. The early attempts at distance education were hampered by resistance from traditionalist within the education field.

Some invoked what they called the philosophy of education to demonstrate that the teacher was essential to the educational process. This resistance led to the early online degrees being considered inferior to traditionally obtained degrees. This prejudice extended to the personal departments of major employers. When choosing between two otherwise equally qualified applicants, preference was shown to the person holding the traditional degree. In recent years this has changed drastically. The improvements in E-learning technology and the ability to create virtual classrooms and a virtual learning environment (VLE) has gradually broken down the resistance. This process has been helped by the emergence of a new generation that was weaned on the computer. It would not be surprising if within another generation, the pendulum shifts completely and the online degree is the one that is respected and coveted.